- - Saturday, December 17, 2011

BLACKSBURG, Va. — It seems No. 11 Virginia Tech has spent more time defending its Sugar Bowl selection than celebrating it.

And frankly, the Hokies are a little ticked off about it.

“We’re aware of what the national media or whoever else is saying about whether or not we belong in this game and it’s disrespectful, it really is, to have the success that we’ve had in this program since 1993 and to have the wins we’ve had and things like that to the point where you have to defend yourself for being in a bowl game like that,” Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer said.

Tech’s first-ever at-large BCS bid was met with much media criticism. The general opinion was the Hokies weren’t worthy of getting a Sugar Bowl spot above the likes of Boise State and Kansas State.

Tech (11-2) feels like it shouldn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but it certainly could benefit from the added motivation when it takes on No. 13 Michigan (10-2) at the Superdome in New Orleans on Jan. 3.

“I hope our kids are a little ticked off by this,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Hopefully we can use it to our advantage from a standpoint of we are the underdog, we don’t belong.”

The players have gotten past the criticism of their surprise Sugar Bowl selection and are excited for the opportunity to play in a big game against one of the most storied programs in college football history.

“They can’t go back and put somebody else in the game. It is what it is,” Tech senior free safety Eddie Whitley said. “It’s us against Michigan, and they were well-deserving, but we think like we’re well-deserving also to play in that game.”

There is no shortage of motivation for Tech as it prepares to play in its fourth BCS bowl in the last five years.

The Hokies want to make amends for their 38-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game Dec. 3, and they’re seeking to reverse a recent trend of losses in big neutral-site games. They’ve lost three of their last four games on neutral fields, including last season’s Orange Bowl against Stanford.

Tech’s bowl record could also use a boost. The Hokies are 8-10 in bowl games under coach Frank Beamer and 2-5 in the four major bowls, with wins over Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl and Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl.

Regardless of where the inspiration comes, Tech has an opportunity to finish off its season on a high note and send its seniors out with a second BCS bowl win in four years.

“The cards have been dealt. You’re always going to have people who question it, and I think we’re a good team,” Tech senior wide receiver Danny Coale said. “Just because we lost two games doesn’t make us a bad team, and I think it’s important to prove that to people because a lot of people saw that ACC [championship] game and, rightfully so, questioned us, so it’s important in another big stage game to play a lot better.”